Anthem Singers to Kiteman to Elephants
(Wednesday’s Weekly Reader….second in a series of folks behind the scenes with the Phillies. Chris Long, Director Entertainment, overseeing everything pre-game from Anthem singers to kiteman to elephants).
A field general is generally a term given a quarterback in football, the guy who calls and directs the next play. Borrowing that label, the Phillies have their own field general, a lady who directs all the pre-game festivities at Citizens Bank Park. Her name is Chris Long and her official title is Director, Entertainment.
Her career with the Phillies didn’t start out that way as she was hired as a secretary to Frank Sullivan, the club’s Director of Promotions. The year was 1971, the Vet’s first. Eventually she became the escort for the National Anthem singers, bands, those throwing the first ball or being introduced on the field.
Out of nowhere in April 1978, a big green furry creature appeared at a Phillies home game, a quiet debut for Phillies Phanatic. Within weeks requests for the Phanatic began to pour in. Chris assumed being the creature’s first booking agent. That began to occupy so much of her day time that the responsibility was shifted to another employee.
A good chunk of Chris’ time is scheduling Anthem singers, persons throwing the ceremonial first pitches, color guards and musical groups. About five years ago, Teresa Leyden was hired as an assistant with the idea that she would someday succeed Chris. Starting in 2015 Chris began easing out of the position that required working all 81 home games.
So, how does one get to sing the anthem at a Phillies game? “Individuals and groups submit tapes,” she began explaining. “Some of the home dates are immediately filled with choirs or choruses as part of our corporate/community nights. We prefer groups as we have had some difficult experiences with solo singers.” Almost year round she can be found playing tapes while working on the computer on other projects. Years ago a neighboring employee exclaimed, “Hey Chrissy. That’s the 14th anthem today.” Now Teresa’s neighbors can respond as she’s assumed that friendly chore.
First ball pitches can be one, three or more. “Most we had was nine all throwing at the same time,” she laughed. Someone has to catch and guess who takes care of that.
She and the Phanatic work hand-in-hand in scheduling fifth-inning skits on the field and seventh-inning dancing on the first base dugout roof. During the conflicts in Afghanistan and Irag the Phillies kept getting calls seeking help in saluting the military being deployed or returning. “As you can imagine, some of the calls were very emotional. Mike Boekholder (head groundskeeper) came up with the idea of having a military member change the bases after the third inning,” she said. “We don’t do it every game but the reaction from fans is phenomenal every time.” On occasion first-responders are saluted this way. Rothman orthopedics was eager to become the sponsor.
After 911, Major League Baseball directed all teams to have a performance of “God Bless America” as part of the game experience. “We do it opening day, Sunday and on the summer holidays, Memorial Day, Flag Day, 4th of July and 9/11,” added Chris. Finding singers? Guess who. The Phillies annually salute veterans on one those holidays. Working with Veterans groups, Chris will have representatives from various wars and conflicts on the field along with a large American flag. The Phillies have always believed honoring veterans is very important.
When the team is on the road, her hours are pretty normal, 9 a.m. to 5-5:30 p.m. Much of her day is planning the pre-game show for each of the games on the next homestand. For home games, 9 a.m. until after the end of each game. Once the game has started she has time for dinner in the Press Dining Room before heading for the field and the Phanatic’s fifth-inning gig.
Chris prepares a detailed game log broken down minute-by-minute. That log is distributed to both clubhouses, the umpires, baseball administration, PR, Boekholder, PhanaVision and public address announcer Dan Baker, who also receives a script from her.
For a 7:05 night game the show begins at 6:36 with a welcome by Baker. One minute is allotted for each first ball, two minutes for the anthem and three for the announcement of the starting lineups. Chris can be seen on the field, toting a clipboard and wearing a headset to communicate with the PhanaVision control room. She can also be heard, “Let’s go, hurry up. Where’s the Phanatic?” There’s a lot to be squeezed into festivities that need to end so the game can begin precisely at 7:05. If there is a delay, she will hear from the Phillies dugout. Their starting pitcher is ready to go and any delay can upset his mental and physical preparation. Biggest beefers? Thinking for a moment, Chris responded, “John Vukovich, Dallas Green and Jim Fregosi. I can still hear Vuk, ‘Hey Crissy, get that dog and pony show out of here,’” she said laughing.
When Bill Giles came aboard he felt it was important to entertain the fans. For years, opening day meant some sort of an act, Kiteman (Phillies photo), Benny the Bomb, Cannon Man, Rocketman, parachute acts and Paul Revere, to name a few. Other pre-game fun ranged from ostrich races to performing elephants, the highest-jumping Easter Bunny, players blindfolded trying to smash water melons with a bat, cash scramble, wheelbarrow races and cow-milking contest….on and on. Toss in two walks across the Vet on a tightrope by the Great Wallenda. “Been there, done that,” she laughed again. “But, I wasn’t in charge when the ostrich race bombed.”
The Phillies first national exposure came in 1976 when they hosted the All-Star Game. That began a run of post-season appearances through 1981, except 1979. During those days, the host team pretty much ran the show. MLB drafted Chris to run the All-Star Game shows in 1981 (Cleveland) and 1984 (San Francisco) because of her and the Phillies reputation. During the 1996 All-Star Game at the Vet, Major League Baseballl had assumed more control. MLB is also in charge of the League Championship Series and World Series. “The clubs are pretty much on their own for the Division Series,” Chris says. “Early in the day for each LCS and WS game, there’s a production meeting run by MLB. I attend as every pre-game had to be timed to the second, not just the minute. MLB determines the singers and presentations while the home team schedules the color guard and ceremonial first balls for the World Series.”
Chris has been in the middle of some bizarre pre-game incidents. Asked for her top three, she lowered her head and began doodling with a pencil. Finally, using the David Letterman reverse order:
#3: “We scheduled a duck race one time. Home to first. We quickly learned they don’t race let alone walk in a straight line.”
#2: “We had a dog act that was going to perform with the Phanatic on the field between innings. When the dog saw the first baseman roll the ball to the second baseman, the dog took off trying to get the ball. Back and forth he went. I yelled for the trainer, “Go get your dog! She replied ‘No one told me a ball would be on the field.’ Finally another employee and I ran out there to grab the dog.”
#1: “The Ringling Brothers Circus was performing across the street at the Spectrum. To help promote the shows, the circus agreed to bring some elephants to the Vet field pre-game. They entered from right field followed by three poopy scoopers dressed as clowns. All of a sudden, the elephants stopped and urinated into the dugout….OUR dugout.”
She should write a book.